Gang graffiti plagues Santa Rosa

Published: Friday, April 24, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 12:15 p.m.

Police call it an “upswing,” but residents use the word “rampage.”

Dozens of homes and businesses across Santa Rosa this month have been covered with gang tags, damaging garage doors, sidewalks, cars and bridges in neighborhoods from Bennett Valley to Roseland.

Glen Schoeneck, manager of the apartment complex Sonoma Ridge at Bennett Valley, said tagging in early April left gang names in red and black paint on 13 places on his property.

He felt lucky.

“They got the whole street. Front doors, sides of buildings, dumpsters, garage doors, anything that this group of pranksters saw just walking down the street had black or red graffiti,” he said. “Fortunately they only tagged my property 13 times.”

April’s upswing is part of a pattern of gang graffiti that has been building over several months, said Santa Rosa gangs detective Craig Schwartz.

But what it means and who is responsible for it remains unclear, he said.

“Generally when the gang graffiti starts to go up, it’s a signal for a rise in tensions. But many times it’s just a bunch of youngsters trying to gain credibility with their set,” Schwartz said.

Property Crimes Sgt. Mike Clark said graffiti tends to come and go in waves.

“One month there will be more and the next less,” he said. “Maybe we have a new influx of stuff, but it doesn’t necessarily tie into anything specific.”

Santa Rosa Police have received about 50 reports of tagging in the Bennett Valley area this month, said Georgia Pedgrift, graffiti abatement officer.

Schoeneck, a volunteer with the city’s graffiti abatement program, said he usually is called out to remove graffiti in Bennett Valley two or three times a month. This April, his efforts have been almost daily.

With so much graffiti, it’s hard to know how long tags have been up and which ones are new, he said.

Residents in Rincon Valley, Railroad Square and the Sunset West area near Roseland were hit, too.

“This is so widespread. There are so many different victims,” Pedgrift said. “It was on houses, apartment complexes, schools. They hit pretty much everything.”

Among the most common tags have been those with the initials and numbers of local gangs, though it is not evident that any one gang in particular is responsible for the majority of the tags, Pedgrift said.

A small rise in the amount of graffiti in the Southpark neighborhood is related to the slaying of Luis Suarez, 18, who was gunned down April 8 on Grand Ave. Three days later a 17-year-old Kelseyville boy was charged with the death that investigators said was gang-related.

Police allege Marco Antonio Meza shot Suarez because he thought he was a Norteno gang member. Meza, prosecutors say, is a Sureno.

Schwartz said a small upswing in graffiti in that neighborhood has largely dealt with the death with tags like “RIP Luis.”

Gang tags are not unfamiliar in any neighborhood, including Bennett Valley. But April’s tags were more invasive and more widespread than ever before, Bennett Valley residents said.

“It was very noticeable,” said Sue Albon, a Bennett Valley homeowner. “It wasn’t easy to ignore. It was red paint on garage doors.”

The vast majority of tags across town have been removed by homeowners, apartment managers, Public Works employees, private graffiti abatement firms and graffiti abatement volunteers with the city.

City law requires property owners to remove graffiti on their property within 72 hours.

Private removal, which paints over the area graffiti was removed from with a color that matches the original wall color, runs about $200 for most tag sizes. Several companies in Santa Rosa provide this service.

Volunteers with the city’s graffiti abatement program help homeowners remove graffiti, but are often unable to match paint color.

Public Works employees are responsible for removing graffiti from public property and a private firm removes graffiti from downtown Santa Rosa.

Pedgrift said the best thing to do if your neighborhood has been tagged is to immediately take a picture to document it then remove it.

“Especially with gang graffiti,” she said. “If you leave it up, others will come by and cross it out and add more. The chance is pretty high that it will grow.”

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